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Thought you guys might find this interesting

This is a letter writen by Kurt Vonnegut in 1988. It’s addressed to people in the year 2088. Again, I did NOT write this, I copied and pasted so you guys wouldnt have to follow the link, but if you would like the link anyways its at the bottom.

“Ladies & Gentlemen of A.D. 2088:

It has been suggested that you might welcome words of wisdom from the past, and that several of us in the twentieth century should send you some. Do you know this advice from Polonius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet: ‘This above all: to thine own self be true’? Or what about these instructions from St. John the Divine: ‘Fear God, and give glory to Him; for the hour of His judgment has come’? The best advice from my own era for you or for just about anybody anytime, I guess, is a prayer first used by alcoholics who hoped to never take a drink again: ‘God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.’

Our century hasn’t been as free with words of wisdom as some others, I think, because we were the first to get reliable information about the human situation: how many of us there were, how much food we could raise or gather, how fast we were reproducing, what made us sick, what made us die, how much damage we were doing to the air and water and topsoil on which most life forms depended, how violent and heartless nature can be, and on and on. Who could wax wise with so much bad news pouring in?

For me, the most paralyzing news was that Nature was no conservationist. It needed no help from us in taking the planet apart and putting it back together some different way, not necessarily improving it from the viewpoint of living things. It set fire to forests with lightning bolts. It paved vast tracts of arable land with lava, which could no more support life than big-city parking lots. It had in the past sent glaciers down from the North Pole to grind up major portions of Asia, Europe, and North America. Nor was there any reason to think that it wouldn’t do that again someday. At this very moment it is turning African farms to deserts, and can be expected to heave up tidal waves or shower down white-hot boulders from outer space at any time. It has not only exterminated exquisitely evolved species in a twinkling, but drained oceans and drowned continents as well. If people think Nature is their friend, then they sure don’t need an enemy.

Yes, and as you people a hundred years from now must know full well, and as your grandchildren will know even better: Nature is ruthless when it comes to matching the quantity of life in any given place at any given time to the quantity of nourishment available. So what have you and Nature done about overpopulation? Back here in 1988, we were seeing ourselves as a new sort of glacier, warm-blooded and clever, unstoppable, about to gobble up everything and then make love—and then double in size again.

On second thought, I am not sure I could bear to hear what you and Nature may have done about too many people for too small a food supply.

And here is a crazy idea I would like to try on you: Is it possible that we aimed rockets with hydrogen bomb warheads at each other, all set to go, in order to take our minds off the deeper problem—how cruelly Nature can be expected to treat us, Nature being Nature, in the by-and-by?

Now that we can discuss the mess we are in with some precision, I hope you have stopped choosing abysmally ignorant optimists for positions of leadership. They were useful only so long as nobody had a clue as to what was really going on—during the past seven million years or so. In my time they have been catastrophic as heads of sophisticated institutions with real work to do.

The sort of leaders we need now are not those who promise ultimate victory over Nature through perseverance in living as we do right now, but those with the courage and intelligence to present to the world what appears to be Nature’s stern but reasonable surrender terms:

  1. Reduce and stabilize your population.
  2. Stop poisoning the air, the water, and the topsoil.
  3. Stop preparing for war and start dealing with your real problems.
  4. Teach your kids, and yourselves, too, while you’re at it, how to inhabit a small planet without helping to kill it.
  5. Stop thinking science can fix anything if you give it a trillion dollars.
  6. Stop thinking your grandchildren will be OK no matter how wasteful or destructive you may be, since they can go to a nice new planet on a spaceship. That is really mean, and stupid.
  7. And so on. Or else.

Am I too pessimistic about life a hundred years from now? Maybe I have spent too much time with scientists and not enough time with speechwriters for politicians. For all I know, even bag ladies and bag gentlemen will have their own personal helicopters or rocket belts in A.D. 2088. Nobody will have to leave home to go to work or school, or even stop watching television. Everybody will sit around all day punching the keys of computer terminals connected to everything there is, and sip orange drink through straws like the astronauts.

Cheers,

Kurt Vonnegut

http://writerswrite.co.za/kurt-vonnegut-writing-advice-and-a-letter-for-2088

 

2 Responses to Thought you guys might find this interesting

  1. Liam St Louis says:

    I’ll answer your quote with a paraphrased saying from I don’t know where – “Being a cynic is the easiest job in the world, because one way you’re still right and the other you’re still alive.”

    These semi-doomsday wise sounding cynical pieces certainly beg for our attention, and the way media and most activist groups like to function, we certainly get the impression that we are barreling towards destruction on virtually every scale: economic, environmental, political, etc etc. And I suppose that’s for the best, because nobody does anything until you scream “Fire!” It doesn’t help that we have better information about our problems than ever before, as the quote says, but I think our penchant for doomsaying is a result of the information about what a bad state humanity is in growing a lot faster than we realize just how much better things are getting.

    Many would disagree on this point, but the world has really gotten better at breakneck pace since this letter was written. Poverty is at its lowest point in global history, global life expectancies are rising, new technologies are rapidly developing in every field from space exploration to renewable energy (solar panels cost being halved every 18 months or so, largely thanks to growth in China), social restrictions are being lifted, per-capita energy use in the West is down from 30 years ago, I’m writing this on a machine using a network 5 billion people have access to that literally gives everyone unlimited free access to the sum total of information created in human history. Things are getting better, and when that ice age returns or that comet hits, we’re closer and closer to having the capacities to respond to it.

    The letter intrigues me, though – human history being often defined as an eternal competition against Nature, would it be fair to define human progress and human achievement as a race to be able to survive whatever She may throw at us? That seems to be what Vonnegut is getting at – stop doing stupid things and focus on what really matters. I commented on another post about intelligence earlier, and I’d wonder if intelligence can be linked to that idea of survival – can the intelligence of a species be defined by its ability, then, now, and in the future, to escape the vagaries of Nature and define its own existence? Was stepping away from the vicissitudes of hunting and gathering the first step towards a humanity defined by freeing itself from all such constraints, or are we doomed to have to live with and live against nature?

     
    • bryanjack says:

      Thanks for this outstanding entry to the conversation in Philosophy 12, Liam (and welcome back). You pick up on an interesting thread in the letter Jayden and I were talking about the other day, which speaks to the determination of our ethics. What is good, and what is right, are questions that evolve with time and culture, and as such contain incomprehensible multitudes:

      “…I’m writing this on a machine using a network 5 billion people have access to that literally gives everyone unlimited free access to the sum total of information created in human history. Things are getting better, and when that ice age returns or that comet hits, we’re closer and closer to having the capacities to respond to it.”

      This is an inspiring thought, but along with the gobsmacking potential of our technological innovations and materialistic progress, humans have wrought unspeakable havoc on the natural world, altering the atmosphere and depleting the oceans, destroying habitat and rendering the diversity of life on earth slowly extinct. But I find myself agreeing with you in as much as our current state of affairs needn’t be characterized as “good” or “bad,” and might better be observed as Vonnegut famously does so many times in the wonderfully weary Slaughterhouse Five: “So it goes.”

      By the same token, I am reminded of the Borges line, “Like all men, he was given bad times in which to live.” And I think the way you phrase this question gets to the crux of the human condition: “Was stepping away from the vicissitudes of hunting and gathering the first step towards a humanity defined by freeing itself from all such constraints”? When we think about what it means to be human, and what might constitute the “good” life, it can be helpful to contextualize the human experience on an evolutionary timeline, as you have here.

      “…would it be fair to define human progress and human achievement as a race to be able to survive whatever [nature] may throw at us?”

      Given that homo sapiens sapiens translates to the ‘wise man,’ and that such wisdom has been the seed of our continued transcendence (and corresponding perils) throughout history, what constitutes that wisdom, and how it ought be applied seems the core of the issue.

       

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